Why I’m Upset At Goodreads

Apologies for the large amount of text.

First of all, I’d like to (sarcastically) thank Goodreads for forcing me to change my reviewing policy on self-published books. This new rule designed to protect author’s feelings (who shouldn’t be reading reviews anyway, if they’re going to get butthurt) is actually working against them. Cheers for that.

The biggest thing that upsets me is not the fact that they have deleted shelves without warning (which they have now apologised for, but thanks anyway, you chased some friends off your website with that stunt) but the fact that shelves are being deleted based on interpretation of content.

Goodreads encourages creativity in our reviews and as such I try to make my shelves sound interesting. Sometimes I take references from songs. Is ‘poison running through my veins’ at risk? At the moment it shelves books about assassins or poison makers because I’m especially interested in those kinds of books and think they deserve their own shelf (what? I don’t need to justify my shelf names, surely not!), but if I dedicate that shelf exclusively to notorious and documented badly behaving authors, does that mean someone’s going to look at it and interpret it as an attack on an author? That perhaps I would like the author to be poisoned?

Hey, it’s happened before. An author misinterpreted shelf names and started telling the whole Internet she was being attacked and threatened. Most people believed her. Some people actually pulled the evidence to prove it never happened. But this is the Internet, yo, and bad news travels fast. According to some, reviewers are the worst bullies in the world, cyber terrorists and criminals who deserve to go to jail.

For criticising books. Yep.

Here’s typically what happens:

  1. Reviewer doesn’t like the book for whatever reason and rates it one star (sometimes 2 or 3!).
  2. Author gets butthurt and attacks reviewer. May or may not call in fanpoodles and/or take it to social media to harass reviewer.
  3. Reviewer warns other reviewers that the author is harassing them.
  4. Other reviewers shelve the book ‘badly behaving author’ (or variation of) to remind themselves not to read or support that author.
  5. Author runs around crying they’re being bullied because people don’t want to read their books and their sales are suffering and everyone is mean to them and WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE AUTHOR’S FEELINGS?

Steps three to five have effectively been removed. A community has been torn asunder. The one defence reviewers have against badly behaving authors – a defence that is based around passive prevention, not actively fighting back (yes, the same link as above, twice – I’m making a point) – is gone.

It’s easy to say ‘if reviewers didn’t have those shelves, they wouldn’t be removed in the first place.’ It’s equally as easy to say ‘if authors would just fucking behave themselves and let readers have their own fucking opinions this never would have happened for fuck’s sake.’

Why is bad behaviour suddenly a secret?

One of my good friends had a shelf deleted because it said ‘due to author’. This could have meant anything. It could have meant ‘due to the author I’m now interested in learning more about flowers’ or ‘due to the author saving my life I’m going to read all their books’ or even ‘due to the author’s support of free speech I feel comfortable reviewing their books’. Yes, equally it could mean ‘I’m not going to read this book due to the author’s behaviour where they attacked/harassed/doxxed myself or a friend or really any reviewer ever because really THAT SHIT IS UNACCEPTABLE’.

If authors behave like toddlers, they will get treated like toddlers.

Goodreads has left ‘awesome author’ and ‘supportive author’ shelves alone. However, at the time of publication, they have not yet deleted ‘author is desperate for publicity’. They deleted a ‘badly behaving authors’ list but they also appear to have deleted an ‘authors behaving beautifully’ list* (this is speculation, I do not know whether Goodreads deleted this, or the list creator).

I’m absolutely furious because I primarily use Goodreads as a cataloguing system to help with my book blog. It’s clean, easy to use, and for a data nerd like me I can find lists full of anything I want within my own ‘My books’ section. Sometimes I go there just to look at all the books I’m yet to read, and sigh, and daydream about the future where I expect to magically have more time to read. I can have customisable shelves for anything I want. I have shelves based on year of publication, year I read the book, shelves dedicated to publishers, shelves dedicated to genre, shelves dedicated to where I plan to buy the books…

According to Goodreads, if I name any of my shelves the wrong thing, I’ll get a warning, and if I don’t act quickly, it will be deleted and my account will come under review.

My creativity, which Goodreads itself has encouraged, may in fact be to blame for any shelf deletion that may occur.

Now, I’ve deliberately stayed under the radar and review anonymously because of reasons. I’ve used my own personal code for my shelves, such as ‘help help I’m being repressed’. Wanna take a guess what that means? DO I THINK THE AUTHOR IS REPRESSING ME? Have I named it thus because of the author’s behaviour?

It’s my code for dystopian books. But now it’s at risk of deletion because apparently Goodreads thinks it knows my intention behind my shelves. It thinks it can find the signified behind the signifier. But it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Is my ‘first world problems’ shelf at risk? It might be about the author being butthurt over a review (it’s not). You know, that is pretty ‘first world problems’ when you think about it. What about my ‘awesome author’ or ‘indie author is made of awesome’ shelves? Is my ‘maybe’ shelf at risk? Because, you know, it’s not entirely positive.

Is someone going to be offended because I shelve their books as ‘the tempest of my eyes’? Wanna know what that means? It means I once studied Shakespeare:

How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?

Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.

Will someone who has never studied Shakespeare and doesn’t know what that rather ambiguous shelf means delete it because it could be interpreted in some way as bullying the author? if you need help translating, go here.

My sci-fi shelf starring extra-terrestrial life is called ‘aliens yo they’re among us’. Does this mean I think the author is an alien? IT COULD MEAN THAT. But you know what, Goodreads? It’s none of your freaking business what my shelves MEAN, only what they SAY. I wasn’t aware you hired psychics to know my intentions.

For the record, I visited a psychic once. She told me my pregnant cousin was going to have a girl (she had 2 boys), that my dad will develop his relationship with my cousin’s husband through fishing (neither of them have a fishing licence), and that I would find work in TV near a river (I work in IT in a city). I don’t remember the rest because it was clearly bullshit. Let’s hope your psychics are better than mine.

I want to know how Goodreads is tracking these unacceptable shelves. Are they being flagged, and by whom? (Authors? reviewers?) Who makes the final decision on whether the shelf is referencing author behaviour? Are they tracking the shelves by looking at notorious and documented badly behaving authors’ books and deleting ones they don’t like or are unsure of? Or is Goodreads being fed a list of ‘bully’ reviewers and systematically investigating their shelves?

We, the readers, need transparency. We cannot afford to be silenced when we are already under attack.

I feel censored, and I feel these may be the next steps:

  • DNF reviews are no longer allowed (if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all!)
  • No ratings without reviews (like on Amazon)
  • A mandatory minimum of five sentences in reviews (yep, saw this proposal once)
  • No GIFs in reviews (they are ‘distracting’)
  • Reviews face a limit of 300 words (as opposed to the roughly three and a half thousand words they give us now)
  • Reviews criticising the writer’s technique are not allowed (yes, I have seen this proposed. Apparently it’s ‘mean’ to criticise whether an author can actually write or tell a story.)
  • Reviewers are forced to answer a detailed quiz to prove they finished the book before leaving a review (yes, I actually witnessed this proposal from a butthurt author once)
  • No negative reviews allowed. Only three stars and above.
  • Reviewers need to write a book, have it hit a bestseller’s list, and have it peer reviewed before they can review others’ work (seems to be a popular proposal from other reviewers)

And thank you, Goodreads, for throwing years of literary theory out the window. I’m sure universities around the world are changing their curriculum after receiving notice that amateur reviewers are no longer allowed to reference the author outside of the book; that feminist theory, post-modern theory, and post-colonial theories (among others) are now defunct.

Most of the shelves being deleted do not rate and do not contain reviews. I personally find it incredibly useful to have my friends’ shelves available for me to see. When I go to a bookshop (because I still love books, even if there are some authors I won’t read) it is incredibly handy to check on my Goodreads phone app any author whose book piques my interest. If they have a shelf based on their bad behaviour, I can simply return the book and buy another. No harm done, no fuss whatsoever. I don’t want that author getting my money or support. Now I’m going to have to write a very long list of authors to avoid and keep it in my wallet.

One way to keep track of which authors you’re not going to read is to one star their book with no review and no shelves. Of course, there are authors who want to force reviewers to write a short review in the prevention of ‘one star flybys’ but you know what? I am so far beyond caring. I pride myself on limiting the number of one star ratings I gave out on Goodreads because I am an incredibly picky reader. One of the reasons I am so picky is because I refuse to read authors who harass reviewers. Goodreads was there to back up my book blog’s reputation. It was a very quick and easy way to see my stats for any potential publisher or author who might want me to review their books. It was also there for any other reader to see, in case they might start trusting my reviews because they have the same taste as I do. I have never ever rated a book one star without reading it, but this is actually (and strangely, now) not against Goodreads policy. It may be my only option to track authors I don’t want to read.

The sad thing? I’ve rated Aimee Carter’s second and third Goddess novels one star. This is because I thought they sucked ass, but I would love to read another book she puts out.

The one last thing I have to say is this: if this is all about sales, and it’s in Amazon’s best interest to attempt to sell as many units as possible regardless of customer satisfaction (often predicted by reading negative reviews) or how authors respond to reviews, and that’s why they want our community warnings removed, then the authors who are notoriously and documented as badly behaving probably expect their sales to skyrocket after this announcement. After all, it’s because of the ‘bullies’ that they aren’t selling any books. Isn’t that right? On the other hand, they like to laugh at us and say our efforts to ‘destroy their careers’ don’t work, and they’re selling fine anyway. It’s got nothing to do with the content of their book and all about their behaviour. Maybe if they just learned to take criticism this shitstorm would never have happened.


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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32 thoughts on “Why I’m Upset At Goodreads

  1. thecrazybookworm

    I shared this on Twitter, I hope you don’t mind. Me and my friend are contemplating moving out of Goodreads for good and focusing on our blogs until a good book website comes into the light. Thanks for this comprehensive post!

    1. Nemo

      I don’t mind at all, thank you for the share. I’ve joined Booklikes but I am yet to decide how to treat Goodreads – whether I continue reviewing there at all or simply rate for my records and utilise its cataloguing system.

  2. Nitzan Schwarz

    Wonderful post!
    Personally, I suck at shelving (can’t keep it up with a shelf for more than an hour, lol) and most of my reviews are two paragraphs and a link to my blog (which used to be because I was simply too lazy to copy the whole thing and try working the formatting inside as it should look, but now it’s mostly because hey, I don’t want to accidentally say something wrong and have the whole review removed. Not worth it) so so far, I’ve not been affected by GR news. But I am angry at this on the behalf of other reviewers, such as yourself, and because of what it means. Basically, that we can’t say our opinions; can’t warn and protect each other from harassing authors; can’t explain valid reasons for not liking a book. And of course, all you mentioned here about the shelving, their intent and their meaning.
    No, GoodReads probably doesn’t have a psychic trying to work out the meaning of the shelf. Who’s got the time or the money to hire one, right?… no, they’re probably systematically erasing shelves that have a certain wording, or tone, without even checking if that’s what they really mean. *sigh*

    Wonderful post, going to share it in the social media now~

    1. Nemo

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and the share. I know it’s frustrating, but we either need to suck it up or leave. I’m changing the way I use Goodreads, and I’ve sadly seen some friends leave because of this. I feel really sad about it all because we just can’t have nice things.

      1. Nitzan Schwarz

        You’re welcome 🙂
        Well, I’ve seen a lot of people saying they’ll stop posting their reviews, just ratings to keep up with their books. That’s what I plan to do. Goodread is a helpful toll for me to find new books, and keep track of what I’ve read/plan to read, so I don’t feel like I want to abandon it completely. But, why contribute to the site in terms of reviews if they can come and delete them at any given moment? If that’s the way the behave toward their readers and users?…

  3. Archer

    This is going straight on my book likes. I have lost any and all respect for Goodreads after they deleted my shelves and reviews, the shelfs they deleted didn’t even have starred ratings. They were just for my own personal cataloguing. I got no warning, no chance to edit. Just deleted. So screw em.

  4. portiabridget

    The one last thing I have to say is this: if this is all about sales, and it’s in Amazon’s best interest to attempt to sell as many units as possible regardless of how authors respond to reviews and that’s why they want our community warnings removed, then the authors who are notoriously and documented as badly behaving probably expect their sales to skyrocket after this announcement. After all, it’s because of the ‘bullies’ that they aren’t selling any books. Isn’t that right? On the other hand, they like to laugh at us and say our efforts to ‘destroy their careers’ don’t work, and they’re selling fine anyway. It’s got nothing to do with the content of their book and all about their behaviour. Maybe if they just learned to take criticism this shitstorm would never have happened.

    Isn’t it rather sad? Ultimately it is ok to behave in a rude and outrageous manner, it is ok to threaten people because they’ve had the cheek to criticize your outrageous behaviour publicly, hurting the sales of your book. It is ok to be greedy . It is ok to remove reviews and whole shelves without one word of warning. I am so angry.

  5. Barbara W. (@Lindt_Ninja)

    You’re awesome. Just..yeah. Hell, yeah. I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what to do and how far to withdraw from GR. I thought just pulling all of my reviews, wishlist and TBR list would be enough. Then I thought pulling all of my books and just using it to socialize would be enough but after yesterday, I don’t think anything short of completely leaving is enough. They don’t get it. They’re so far in the wrong, I don’t want to even give them my traffic.

    I’m sort of having fun at BookLikes. No, it’s not GR but it feels very personal and there’s a lot of potential. Right now, I’d rather have a tiny voice in a small place than have no voice at a conglomerate.

    1. Nemo

      It’s your own choice what to do, but now that we are spreading onto other social media I don’t see what the problem with leaving GR is. I won’t leave yet, because my other alternative is to catalogue my books privately and I don’t have the time yet.

  6. kelpeterson

    Thank you for your thoughts on these new policies. I hadn’t heard about them until reading this. It’s definitely one of those “small government” moments for me: less oversight and arbitrary action from the overseers who may or may not know the context.

    Just wrote a ridiculously long post for the thread on the new policies … fingers cramping. 🙂

  7. Carrie

    that is such crap! I must admit I don’t think it will be an issue for me since most of my shelves are pretty boring “Romance” “Fantasy” “Book Reviews” etc etc 🙂

    1. Nemo

      True, for a lot of people it won’t be an issue, but there are people like me out there who have tried to express their creativity and individuality who are at risk of deletion. Thanks for your support.

  8. Chrinda Jones

    Hello Nemo! I am an indie author and I LOVED reading this morning’s post.

    Whatever happened to the old saying ‘You can’t survive being an author if you don’t have thick skin’? Personally, I find the milk toast reviews being put forth these days frustrating, not only for me as an author, but for me as a reader. Part of having people read your work is so you, as an author, know where to improve your skill base. Quite simply- If an author stops accepting criticism, they stop growing as a writer. Period. As a reader, I want to know if the writer’s voice or style or what have you, isn’t quite up to snuff. Writer’s voice and style is very important to me when I read, and I don’t appreciate reviews that are just summaries of the story or dance around issues the book may have. I don’t make my decision to read a book based solely on reviews, because that would be stupid. God gave us a brain to take in many sources of information, process those sources and decide for ourselves. That is what I do, and so should the discriminating reader.

    Yes, there are those reviewers out there who use the platform as a way to be nasty and obnoxious and bash authors right and left. And yes, some reviewers don’t know what their doing, but most read and write from a passion for books and the love of passing on that one diamond they found among the pieces of coal in the bin.

    The same can be said for authors. There are some terrible authors out there in traditional and indie publishing, and quite rightly, they should be routed out. Honest reviews help with that process, especially when there are more published works today than there has ever been before, meaning there are more stinkers to wade through.

    So, I said that to say this- I applaud those reviewers who tell the truth, in a constructive manner, because that is the only way, we as authors, can improve. These authors who get their feelings hurt, should step out of the business. Personally, I don’t know how they accept what their editors have to tell them, (which can be far more crushing to the psyche) if they can’t accept a few bad reviews.

    Thanks for saying what many of us haven’t.

    Chrinda Jones, author of ‘Darkness Knows Me’

    1. Nemo

      Thank you very much for your reply and your support. It’s lovely authors such as yourself who are going to get hurt with this, what with the number of blogs who won’t review self-pubbed works, myself included, due to this change. Your point about being a reader is still completely valid. Thank you.

  9. Vyki Carswell

    And this is why some people don’t even deserve to be authors. Being a writer comes with criticism and you can’t please everybody in the world with your work. It just isn’t possible to write something that EVERYONE is sure to enjoy. How do these kinds of people survive in critique groups and forums? I welcome all critiques on anything I write because the feedback, good or bad, can help you improve. Authors should welcome it all also and not harass people just because they didn’t like the book. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Goodreads – what happened to freedom of speech? Looks like it is now only freedom of positive speech and sweep the unpleasant opinions under the rug. I haven’t had any problems out of Goodreads yet, but that doesn’t mean I may not consider leaving GR because of stupidity like this. Everybody to be able to be as creative and opinionated as they want to be with their own shelves and the authors who want to cry about it can just suck my big toe, they need to put on big boy and girl pants and understand that there are going to be some people that will happen not to like what they wrote. We can’t post our “bad” opinions on authors we don’t like, but the authors can get away with tantrums and be bad instead. Something is very wrong with this picture. Thanks for this post and helping me vent 🙂

    Vyki @ On The Shelf

    1. Nemo

      “It just isn’t possible to write something that EVERYONE is sure to enjoy.” This is a very good point that needs to be repeated over and over again. Thank you for your support and please, feel free to vent away.

    1. Nemo

      It’s my favourite, too, and it’s by far the best cataloguing system I’ve used. I just won’t be using it for reviews any more.

  10. Anya

    Excellent point! I knew when this whole thing started that there was something I inherently felt was wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it! I’m glad that other bloggers are more eloquent than I am 😉 Also new follower 😀

  11. memoriestrilogy

    I guess I’m a weird author then. While I LOVE getting 5 star reviews singing my praises, I also like to know what I can do to improve my craft. The only reviews I have issues (read don’t find helpful) with are ones where the reviewer either just leaves a single star with no reason, or leave a one star review with a two word response like, “It sucks”.
    My issue with those reviews is that I want to know why someone didn’t like it. Was it because of spelling or grammar errors (I self edit and do miss things sometimes, and thanks to reviews, I have been able to fix issues I had missed). I want to know what “sucked” so that I can learn and grow as a writer. To me, 1 and 2 star reviews are learning experiences, and I can’t learn if I don’t know what I messed up on.

    1. Nemo

      No no, you’re not weird, you’re completely normal. It’s the overly vocal minority that can’t handle anything less than fawning 5 stars or gentle criticism that belongs to a feedback group. Reviewers aren’t obligated to give feedback and a lot of authors seem to forget that reviewers’s precious time reading, thinking, and writing reviews could have easily been spent on another book. Anyway a lot of the time 1 and 2 star reviews are ‘it wasn’t for me’ reviews rather than ‘it sucked and it’s not ready for prime time’. Reviewers aren’t there to be useful to authors, so if they’re gonna read good and bad reviews they have to be able to take any sort of criticism. Authors like yourself are a blessing, and thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      1. memoriestrilogy

        I definitely understand about time management. I do a lot of author review exchanges, or free copies of my book in exchange for reviews, hence my view on the reviews I receive. With the review exchanges, if I’m putting in time to give a detailed review (which is what both parties agree on in the beginning) I’m expecting a detailed one back. 🙂

        Generally, if I get a review of “It sucked” or something else, I’ll message the person (after a few days, as I understand some people put place holder reviews and then come back) asking, “What could I have done to make it better?” or “Is there at least one point about my book you can tell me you didn’t like?” and then leave it there. If they don’t contact me back, I just move on.

        I’m with you on the authors that harass their reviewers over little things. Not everyone is going to like a book, and we as authors need to realize that. Changing the rules to make authors “feel good” won’t do anything but (in my opinion) lower the standards of the community. I know that my book will have errors, I know that my book won’t be “perfect”, but I also know that I am an indie author who is not able to afford the cost of an editor.

        Because of feedback from reviews, I also learned that people were turned off by my covers, so I changed them, and I got good feedback on the new covers.

        Perhaps that’s what could be changed, while a review can be just a star (I’m guilty of just leaving a star rating on books and no reviews if it’s a 4 or 5….3 or lower I try to explain why), perhaps also have a section for feedback (something that I’m honestly more interested in…the star rating is just aesthetics) to help the indie authors. I can see the rules above being for a feedback section, as opposed to a review section.

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